One of the challenges that libraries is starting to grapple with is that of preservation for all this digital stuff that’s being constantly created and converted. It’s not enough to burn some files to a CD or DVD or put them on a server–backup is part of the story but not nearly all of it. Software formats and hardware setups change, server space diminishes, priorities and goals shift, and accidents happen.
Preservation for digital humanities applications is particularly challenging, in part because digital humanities take advantage of the latest software and technology. They are full of dynamic, multimedia content. We can’t know, for example, if the software running applications will be supported even five years down the road, much less ten or twenty. To boil down the point even further, what is the point of developing (some) digital humanities projects if they can’t be supported and sustained over time?
The library world is coming up with solutions to the challenge of digital preservation all the time. We have developed best practices on preservation-quality formats, founded consortia to share the duties of preservation, and come up with metadata standards to ensure long-term preservation of digital library resources. And like preservation, digital humanities computing is increasingly in the purview of libraries.
Let’s have a conversation about what happens after the launch of the coolest new digital humanities application. What are some general principles we can apply if we want to keep those programs around? Can we adapt emerging digital preservation principles to fit the unique challenges of digital humanities data?
If you’d like to do some background reading on digital preservation as it pertains to libraries, here are some cool links: